Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Citation Building for Google Places Profiles

Over the weekend, I discussed the recent changes that have been implemented to Google's local algorithm and some of the issues that have arisen from those changes. Another topic that is coming to the forefront of the SEO community's consciousness relating to local search is citation building, and how that impacts a company's Places Profile rankings in the map results. It is important to address why citation building plays such a large role in local search.

Essentially, to understand the concept of citations and why they have such a dramatic effect on where profiles show up in the map results, one has to think of a citation pointing to a profile in the same light as a link pointing to a website. And while citation building and link building are two different processes in and of themselves, they share similarities; more importantly, citations and links each play a vital role in getting ranked high, whether you are targeting the organic search results or the map search results. For SEO and local search newcomers, it is necessary to first understand primary difference between a link and a citation.

If I were building links for a website, I would ultimately want to obtain as many high quality links from other sites around the web that point back to my site as I could. It is widely known that this is the #1 factor that determines where a website ranks in the organic search results. For example, if I owned a site about car parts, I would want to acquire links using "car parts" as the anchor text, ideally from sites that were related to cars. Algorithmically, if I had a large quantity of high quality links, this would demonstrate to Google that my site is well respected, and should be trusted to provide helpful content to online users searching for information on cars. It would make sense for them to put my site at the top of the search results for people to find.

Citations, on the other hand, are not necessarily more complex, they simply take more time to acquire. The reason is simple. In order to get a valuable citation, the referring website must list the company information as it appears in the Places Profile. That means that the company name and address have to be identical. While that doesn't seem too difficult a concept, consider this - if your business is listed at 300 S Main Street in the Places Profile, but someone cites the address on their website as 300 South Main Street, the value of that citation is diminished. One could believe that such a difference as negligible (S. vs. South), but in the realm of local search every detail matters.

As a result, it can be very difficult to acquire a citation from a site that is not a directory and willing to list out all of that information. This limits the amount of resources one can utilize to build their citations, and can increase the amount of time it takes to build a strong citation profile. It is also fairly easy to make mistakes when you submit your company information in an attempt to acquire a citation. Regardless, building citations, albeit a time consuming and tedious process, remains necessary for business who are trying to climb the rankings of the map results and dominate the local search landscape.

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